"All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words." - Amy Lowell, 'Sword Blades and Poppy Seed'

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Christie, Agatha. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. New York: HarperCollins, 2011. 304 pages.

"Roger Ackroyd knew too much. He knew that the women he loved had poisoned her brutal first husband. He suspected also that someone had been blackmailing her. Then, tragically, came the news that she had taken her own life with a drug overdose. But the evening post brought Roger one last fatal scrap of information. Unfortunately, before he could finish reading the letter, he was stabbed to death." (description from book cover)

Overall Rating: *** (out of five)

  • Mystery. Christie's classic locker room mystery is well-constructed, not surprisingly.  The story provides all the clues to solving it, but the conclusion can still come as a surprise.  While people familiar with Christie's writing might know enough to assume that the obvious suspect may not be the right one, there are loose threads galore that complicate the solving of the mystery.
  • Plot.  Though the mystery is good, the surrounding plot is less than stellar.  It seems as though all of the actual story happens in the brief period before the murder and Poirot's arrival.  This sort of mystery that is focused more on clues than characters works better as a short story than requiring the development of a novel.  The mystery is compelling enough to over come this, however.
  • Characterization. The sub-par plot is compounded by the one-dimensionality of the characters.  Their tendency toward being one-note stereotypes rather than fully realized people can make the reader wonder why they should care about them. The mystery is compelling enough to over come this, however.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is considered to be one of Agatha Christie's finest mysteries.  And it is a wonderful and complex mystery.  The twist at the end is probably the most famous part of the novel, causing arguments as to whether the mystery is actually fair to the reader (meaning that the reader is given all of the clues needed to solve the mystery). As a compelling novel, it leaves something to be desired. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic, not because they are unpleasant people, but because the story does not give us enough of them to sympathize with. 

I'm sure that there are people who read Christie's work simply for the mystery, since that is what she's most known for, and in that respect the novel pays off.  But when The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is compared to some of Christie's other novels, to the depth of character in Death on the Nile or the psychological suspense of And Then There Were None, it seems as though Christie could have done a better job.  From an author who has proven that she is as competent at writing characters and plots as she is at writing mysteries, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd leaves a little something to be desired.  It may not be a bad introduction to Christie, but she's written better books that are more satisfying and complete in all respects.

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